Van of Van By The River posted a neatly humorous post on the subject of keeping away from mirrors when wearing glasses (and incidentally on the importance of myopic husbands – I think spouses/long term partners are preferred if lacking in a sense (and maybe sense generally) or two. Personally the longevity of my marriage is, in no small part, due to the Textiliste’s lack of a sense of smell).
Van’s post reminded me of my mother and her failing eyesight. When dad took ill any sort of health care for mum went on hold and, like any much loved jalopy with miles under the hood, if you ignore rattles and splutters they tend to compound whatever the underlying problem is exponentially. By the time you get around to taking them to a mechanic the solutions are fairly drastic.
Mum had a new knee, two deaf aids and cataracts to sort out when she emerged from the despond of losing her husband of 52 years.
The knee operation was major but relatively simple and successful.
The hearing aids useful though they were, were randomly used. She enjoyed driving even as she approached her 80th year and liked the silence as she cruised along. Sadly what was a serene peace to her was a cacophony of clutch and gear cogs being ground into some sort of submission. Mum sold the family motor within three months of dad’s departure and bought a nearly new Peugeot. Eighteen months later it broke down, needing a new clutch. As in much of mum’s life post dad, I had to act as a middleman.
‘I shouldn’t have trusted the French.’
The garage proprietor suggested she shouldn’t ride it so much.
‘I’ve been driving since 1944 I’ll have you know.’
Maybe mum would consider an automatic.
‘I’m not senile, young man’.
A new clutch was fitted and the Archaeologist and I were bombarded with suggestions from her daughters in law that we consider telling her it was time to stop driving. We prevaricated.
Mum went back to her local trips and the car continued to function, or so it seemed. After all mum would tell me if something was wrong, wouldn’t she? As she had with the clutch problem.
Would she heck. It transpired the only reason I heard about the first clutch issue was because my Aunt rescued her and mum knew my Aunt would not keep it quiet. I was involved because of my Aunt’s failure to comply with the rules of the Grey Sisterhood.
Rule 1: don’t tell the children.
Rule 2 : there is no rule 2
Did you notice the important word in that last paragraph? ‘First’ clutch issue.
Yes, eighteen months after the first clutch breakdown mum’s car (or kaka as she now thought of it) broke down again. This time she was rescued by a lovely young couple. Mum gave them my phone number and reckoned they might call me and tell me of the breakdown. The relevant part of our conversation went something along these lines. Mum first.
‘I’m really disappointed with that car. Another clutch. It really is rubbish.’
‘But it’s been 18 months, mum. The first one went after 18 months.’
Pause. ‘I had this one changed three months ago.’
Longer pause from me. ‘Three months ago? You never said.’
‘I know you’re busy, darling.’
‘Yes well. Still three months is ridiculous; they should last longer. I’ll call the garage..’
‘No darling, I’m just sounding off. I can…’
‘No mum. You don’t have a lawyer in the family and not allow me to exercise my snotty know-all self. Dad would have said ‘you don’t keep a dog and bark yourself’ wouldn’t he?’
So I call the garage, girding my loins for a fight. My call with garage was something like this.
‘Hello, Mr Johnson. I’m ringing about my mother’s Peugeot. Barbara Le Pard.’
‘Ah yes. Lovely lady your mum. Stubborn but…’
‘Stubborn?’ She was but I wondered how so in a garage context.
‘I’ve told her she needs to move to an automatic. She’s too heavy on the clutch for a manual.’
‘Yes it’s about that. You remember I spoke to you when her clutch went. 18 months ago.’
‘And it’s gone again.’
‘Well I did warn her…’
‘Yes, but she says she’s only had this one 3 months.’
Pause, background tapping at a key board. ‘Two months and 23 days.’
‘Exactly. Isn’t that ridiculous. Clutches should last longer.’
‘Mr Le Pard, Your mother barely takes her foot off it. When a clutch goes and is replaced then it weakens the surrounds. The next clutch will last a shorter time under the same conditions and so on.’
‘But three clutches inside three years and the last one only two months old…’
‘Yes three clutches.’ I’m beginning to wonder if he is a half wit.
‘Yes, she’s had three clutches. You must know that.’
‘Your mother told you she has only had three clutches.’
‘Let me check.’ By now I can hear the smile in his voice. ‘She’s had six clutches…’
‘.. In addition to the three you know about…’
‘er, you mean nine in total…?’
‘… and three gearboxes.’
‘Perhaps you might suggest a test drive for an automatic, Mr Le Pard?’
If her hearing aids were sometime of an optional extra for mum, her eye-sight was critical to her enjoyment of life: reading, the TV and gardening. Gradually throughout her 70s cataracts began to develop and she was finding seeing difficult (not that she admitted this either – see driving above).
Thus it was welcome when she announced she was to be operated on both eyes. Over a two week period. The doctor’s surgery had an eye clinic where they operate twice weekly so everything was made easy. As I recall she was told to keep the bandage on for three days, put in drops first thing in the morning and last thing at night and then after three days she should see a major improvement.
Now let’s remember she had been very dependent on her veri-focals for years. So after putting in the drops she put her glasses on to help her weak eye. When the first set of bandages came off, she still put on her glasses because her new eye was blurred from the eye drops. She called to say how disappointed she was with the new eye. It was still very poor. I sympathised. I said as she only had to wait a week for a follow up they might have some thoughts about why this was.
What I hadn’t twigged and neither had she, was by putting on her glasses they distorted her new perfect eye, making it seem rubbish. It took two days before she took them off to clean them one mid afternoon and suddenly saw HD TV for the first time.
So excited was she she rang me at work. She only rang me at work in extremis – when Dad was diagnosed with cancer for instance. But this time it was with an almost girlish squeal of delight. I couldn’t have been happier for her.
She was by now 82. That night I called her, expecting continued joy, She had lost that enthusiasm. ‘What’s up mum?’
Pause. ‘How long have I had so many wrinkles?’
The benefit of poor eyesight meant she had not seen any deterioration in her skin. The wonder of new eyesight brought home to her how far Anno Domini had impacted her once smooth features. Sometimes the truth isn’t that great.